Teenage students in Hempstead Village and surrounding communities soon could have the option of a high school that offers four extra weeks of instruction each year, plus tutoring on Saturdays and Sundays.
Sally A. Thompson, a former top administrator in Hempstead's school district, is spearheading a drive to open Long Island's first charter high school. The tuition-free school would serve as an alternative to Hempstead High School and other traditional area schools.
"It's been a dream for a long time," said Thompson, 65, a former assistant school superintendent for curriculum. One of her partners in the venture, Ralph Schneider, is a former Hempstead board president.
Thompson noted that a charter school encompassing grades 9-12 would provide an option for teenagers other than traditional high schools or private academies.
The plan could greatly increase charter-school enrollments in a community that already has one of the state's highest concentrations. Two elementary charter schools currently operate in Hempstead. A third school located in nearby Roosevelt serves grades K-8, and plans to seek a high-school charter next fall.
Public educators wary
In Hempstead, officials in charge of the public school system contend that a competing charter school could derail their own reform efforts. A final decision by the state's Board of Regents is scheduled for September. Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents the Island on the Regents board, has voiced concerns similar to those of Hempstead school officials, but has not said how he might vote.
The proposed school would be known as HERO -- an acronym for "Horizon Educational Reinvestment Opportunity." It would open in the fall of 2012 with 240 students in grades 9-10, and gradually expand to 610 students in grades 9-12.
The school's written prospectus notes that more than 70 percent of students in Hempstead qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches because of low family incomes. The state gives priority to needy communities in deciding where charter schools will be approved. Thompson's proposal is the only one of six submitted from the Island this year that has won state approval for final screening.
To provide extra instruction, the Hempstead school would maintain a 200-day calendar -- 20 days more than the state's minimum requirement. Daily schedules would run from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., with tutoring every afternoon.
Officials in charge of Hempstead's traditional public schools worry that a competitor could drain their system of both students and cash. Charter schools are run by independent, nonprofit boards, with public funding based on the number of students they attract.
Hempstead officials add that any further drain of students could reverse their recent successes in boosting academic achievement. Last spring, the proportion of Hempstead High School graduates earning Regents diplomas rose to 63 percent, from 55 percent the year before. Still, that figure was far below the Island's 91.3 percent average.
"The money follows the kids, so the money would be coming out of our budget," said Charles Renfroe, president of Hempstead's school board. "Since we do seem to be on the upswing, give us a chance to show what we can do."